Ron Frieson, President,
Foundation and External Affairs,
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Ron Frieson is president of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation and External Affairs. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to making kids better today and healthier tomorrow by raising funds to support Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a not-for-profit pediatric healthcare system that is among the leading pediatric hospitals in the nation. Frieson leads all fundraising efforts in support of Children's, including annual gifts, major and legacy gifts, corporate partnerships, grant development, endowment enhancement and special events.
For the inaugural Meet the Leader profile, the AADO Network sat down with President of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation and External Affairs Ron Frieson to learn more about his background, greatest influences, personal philanthropy, fears, and thoughts on legacy.
An inspiration to all who know him, Frieson has led a remarkable life, filled with personal and professional success. In his current role, he directs all of the fundraising efforts in support of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a not-for-profit pediatric healthcare system that is among the top organizations of its kind.
Previously, he held leadership positions at BellSouth (now AT&T), where he served as President of Georgia Operations and as the company’s first Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer. His service and leadership extends to his significant involvement as a board member with a number of organizations including American InterContinental University, SunTrust Bank-Atlanta, The Woodmark Group, Zoo Atlanta, and the American Kidney Fund, where he served as chair of the national board of trustees.
On the personal side, Frieson is a dedicated family man. Frieson has an identical twin, is devoted husband, and has adult twins and five grandchildren.
When asked about the five words or phrases that best define him, Frieson didn’t hesitate before answering, saying he is “hopeful; tenacious (in a calculating way); people-oriented; politically aware; and goal-oriented.”
The Memphis native attended the University of Tennessee, where he had planned to study accounting to fulfill his childhood dream to be a certified public accountant. Frieson switched his major to finance and later earned a master’s degree in business administration from Georgia State University.
One of the greatest influences in his life was his grandfather, “Papa Charlie” Lemmons, a sharecropper from Mississippi, who moved his family to Memphis to work for the International Harvester Plant. Frieson said his grandfather taught him “everything there was about being an independent man.” To honor his grandfather and perpetuate his legacy, Frieson created an endowment in his name at the University of Tennessee (UT). That endowment later grew into a much larger gift from Frieson and his brother, which resulted in the renaming of the Black Cultural Center at UT as the Ron and Don Frieson Black Cultural Center.
Another person who shaped Frieson’s life was his high school basketball coach, who instilled in him and his teammates the importance of discipline, good conduct, and understanding the consequences of personal actions.
An introvert at heart, Frieson spends his downtime unwinding at home and playing golf. He is a spiritual person who recharges and refuels on Sundays.
Over the course of his career, Frieson has learned many lessons. Reflecting on what he wished he had known earlier in his career, he advised, “Whenever you are in an organization, whether it be large or small, your number one priority should be to learn the culture first. Oftentimes we have this energy that we’re going to go in and change things. We have our view of how things should be run and how it should happen, but if you don’t understand the culture first, you really don’t know what you have to do in order to move things to where you would like them to go.”
When asked to share a fact about himself that is not listed in his bio, Frieson said he is proud of the role he played at BellSouth in supporting and advancing the careers of African Americans and the firsts that he achieved—he was the first African American to serve as the President of Georgia Operations and the company’s first Chief Diversity Officer.
What keeps Frieson up at night? “Now that I’m a grandfather,” he said, “I worry about if my grandkids will have all of the knowledge, skills, and maturity they will need for what this world is going to present to them.”
Reflecting upon what he would like his legacy to be, Frieson said he wants to be known for making a difference because he was willing to go the extra mile; he said what needed to be said; he did what needed to be done.